Super Mario. Pokémon. Kingdom Hearts. Overwatch. Dark Souls. These are just a handful of some of the best video game franchises ever spawned. From the classic, retro origins of Pong, to the epic, battle-fueled journey of God of War, video games have captivated the hearts of millions across the world for almost 50 years. Throughout decades, the art of creating, playing, and appreciating a game has been refined to the point where it can be considered as an art form. A gift to the present-day world, the player is immersed in an electronic landscape where they are able to explore the realm by their own capabilities and imagination. But what does it take for a game (a physical disc or cartridge/digital download or program) to become "Game of the Year"? What are the aspects that developers take months, even years, to perfect to sate player expectations? Well then, let's dive into the heart of what it takes to make an epic video game come to life.
How the game is played is the main reason why people get it in the first place; it creates expectations, and (hopefully) delivers a memorable experience. From the thrill of adventuring in role-playing games to the simple obstacle course of platformers, the genre of the game should be carefully picked—by both the consumer and developer. It's important for games to provide something new to both the market and the player while keeping that signature level of nostalgia that captivated players in the first place. Copying another studio's game as "inspiration" or milking a new game from a franchise signifies that the game is losing its touch, becoming more of a cash grab, and/or may shun their audience into moving on to better games.
For these series of articles, I will be using Pokémon as an example, as it is the franchise that I have the most expertise in.
Pokémon has always had the classic formula of (A) journeying with your starter and raising a team, (B) catching all possible Pokémon in the game, (C) battling to become the Pokémon Champion, (D) defeating the evil organization, and (E) catching the Legendary shown on the box. While the game features on catching, breeding, and exploring, Pokémon focuses on its traditional RPG-rock-paper-scissors-chess-lizard-Spock-style battle system. Each new game released is an opportunity to demonstrate the work and dedication they have for the players. As such, the reflection of this is a dedicated video game community that adores, critiques, and is a part of their franchise.
The Pokémon community mainly revolves around the VGC (Video Game Championships), where players across the world compete in a competition to become the world champion. The VGC revolves around a metagame, which is an approach on how to play the game, in tandem with all of the possible rules, and creating a strategy to play it to the best it can possibly be. It has evolved over 24 years and continues to be a beacon for the franchise. Trainers face challenging, and creative question on how to make the most powerful team, consisting of 6 out of 892 Pokémon--each possessing their individual stat totals, abilities, move-set, weaknesses, and resistances. The metagame is incredibly strict on how each Pokémon is: born, raised, and their role and synergy that they have in the team.
Does your team have too many weaknesses to Water? What item will Pikachu carry? Which 4 of your 6 Pokémon will you select in this round, and which 2 will you bring out first? Does this move combo well with your other Pokémon? Do you need to focus more on offensive or defensive? Will you reveal this specific move now, or save it for later for a potential counter-play? Do you risk a key turnabout with a low-accuracy move—and potentially waste a turn? What is your biggest threat(s) to your team, and how do you defeat them with the resources you currently have? These are just a handful of questions that the metagame brings to the table for the community, and gathers them together on how best to play the game. And more importantly, gathers the fans together on an e-sport that they enjoy watching unravel to see who can be the very best that no one ever was.
With this in mind, the gameplay should be both fascinating and unexpected. The gameplay drives players to delve into the electronic world that is available at their fingertips, and let them embrace their own actions. Knowing well that they are enjoying what they are performing.